Somehow, someway, the Cleveland Cavaliers have survived playing well below their potential to retain home-court advantage and their chances to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite everything, playoff history shows that if Cleveland wins Game 5, they have an 82 percent chance to win the series. That said, it is no easy feat to defeat the Chicago Bulls, leaving Cleveland no room for error or any sluggish play. Here are five areas the Cavs need to clean up in order to take Game 5, starting with number 1:
1. The 3 Ball
The Cavs’ shooting woes lingered into Game 4 against the Bulls, with the most scrutiny being directed toward LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. LeBron has shot 2-19 from three-point range and Kyrie shooting a modest, yet subpar 5-14. The worst shooting performance as a team occurred in Game 4, with the team collectively shooting 20 percent from behind the arc. Miraculously, the Cavs pulled off a surreal win at the hands of LeBron James with one of the greatest shots in his storied career. With such streaky shooting, it is crucial for the Cavs to not become overwhelmed and discouraged by the recent lack of buckets, as Game 4 was the first game in the playoffs where the Cavs couldn’t reach 90 points. Coming home to a familiar crowd where the Cavs have averaged 102.5 points per playoff game this year should get this star-studded squad back on track. In addition, J.R. Smith will be playing in his first home playoff game against the Bulls after missing the first two due a suspension from the Boston series. He has provided a much-needed spark in both games against the Bulls on the road in the fourth quarter, shooting 50.0% from deep.
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2. Turnovers on Turnovers on Turnovers!
The Cavs got off to a sluggish start in Game 4, committing seven turnovers in the first quarter alone, nearly half of the team’s total for the entire game (15). Surprisingly, LeBron was held responsible for more than half (8) of the entire team’s turnovers, extremely uncharacteristic. The Bulls turned the 15 turnovers into 17 points and only committed 12 turnovers themselves. LeBron is widely known for his love towards assisting his teammates in anyway possible. However, in Game 4, it definitely seemed as if he was forcing the ball into uncanny and unfitting situations. With the Bulls being a persistent and slashing type of offense, it is critical to reduce the amount of turnovers committed to ensure a proper defensive setup.
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3. Control Possessions, Control The Tempo
The Cavs almost shot their way out of Game 4 with their gruesome shooting performance in the 3rd quarter. By the end of the quarter, the Cavs were 2-19 from behind the three-point arc. Overall, the Cavs shot 25 percent in the quarter compared to the Bulls’ 37% resulting in the Bulls outscoring the Cavs 27-12. The Cavs’ miserable quarter consisted of 11 consecutive missed shots. With an 11-point deficit, the Cavs began playing selfishly and developed a hero-like offensive set which consisted of quick three-point attempts, leaving an unjustified amount time on the shot clock. It is crucial for the Cavs in Game 5 to dig deep into the shot clock and work for the right shot in order to avoid taking bad shots.
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4. Team Health
It is hard to comprehend that the Cavs hold a two-game series tie with the Bulls up to this point considering all the injuries. The Cavs have endured losing superstar Kevin Love for the year, not to mention Kyrie Irving’s foot strain, LeBron’s gruesome ankle injury in Game 4, and JR Smith blatant hobbles. Coach David Blatt attempted to put in end to the injuries after Game 3 with a team yoga session instead of practice, however the plan seemingly proved to be ineffective. It is also important to note that the Cavs front court was already thin prior to Love’s injury with Anderson Varejao out with a ruptured Achilles tendon. With the hobbled Irving and James seeing excessive minutes compared to their normal amount, it is crucial that the two improve their shooting percentages and increase effectiveness on the court in order to build a Cavalier lead and allow adequate rest. It’ll also be up to Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova to continue to play more productive minutes as they did in Games 3 and 4.
Continue to the fifth area the Cavs must clean up to win Game 5:
The terrifying moment of coach David Blatt attempting to call a timeout while the Cavs had none left many fans screaming at their televisions. The infamous Chris Webber moment seems all too real and surely Blatt would have taken incredible amounts of criticism if the timeout call was seen by a referee. If it were not for assistant coach Tyronn Lue frantically pulling Blatt off the court, the Cavs’ championship run would have seemed insurmountable. Had a referee saw his timeout, Cleveland would’ve been called for a technical foul, thus surrendering the last possession LeBron James won the game with for a Bulls free throw and possession.
Another questionable coaching decision was the distribution of minutes. J.R. Smith has been the Cavs most consistent long-range shooter. Given the Cavs’ recent struggles to find the bottom of the bucket from deep and the momentum spark that Smith has been able to provide, many fans are wondering why Smith is not receiving more minutes. In addition, Coach Blatt has placed perhaps too much trust in an incomplete Kyrie Irving, who admits to being able to provide 30 to 40 percent at times on the court. Now seen as a decoy, having Irving on the floor has started to compromise the Cavs defensively. One late adjustment Coach Blatt made in the fourth quarter of Game 4 was putting Iman Shumpert on Derrick Rose, which significantly reduced the amount of dribble penetration, defensive breakdowns, and open shots. It will take creative decisions based on awareness to win Game 5, not instinct; Coach Blatt must leave that to the players on court.